The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, A Review

Book: The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism (From The Cold War To The Present Day)

Author: Nandita Haksar

Print Length: xvi + 335

Genre: Non Fiction / Narrative

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2015

ISBN: 978-93-85288-18-0

Reviewer: Muhammad Tahir

book cover

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism belongs to the narrative genre that has a long pedigree in the literature on Kashmir. This genre, in English language, was probably started in the late 19th century by the European orientalists like Walter Lawrence, Francis Younghusband, Tyndale Biscoe and others, who described Kashmir and Kashmiris from their subjective points of view — and oftentimes implied that Kashur was a mendacious character.

In the recent past, Humra Quraishi (Kashmir: The Untold Story, 2004), David Devadas (In Search of Future: The Story of Kashmir, 2007), and Justine Hardy (In the Valley of Mist, 2009), to name but a few have added to this corpus of narrative literature.

If Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2008) provided a long overdue native perspective on Kashmir, the other works mentioned above, obviously, were an outsiders’ probing gaze on the natives. Since Haksar’s ancestors had long migrated out of Kashmir in the 19th century, and by her own admission she is an Indian by body and spirit, we can safely say that hers is a rather non-native or, as she would prefer, a liberal Indian’s perspective on Kashmir.

“I thought of it,” says Haksar in the book, “as a fight to defend Indian democracy, with the emphasis on Indian.” Here she is referring to Muhammad Afzal Guru’s case.

After Afzal was hanged in February 2013, Haksar and her colleague N D Pancholi — who also drafted Afzal’s mercy petition — had withdrawn as Guru family’s lawyers citing that their involvement had ruffled feathers of Indian nationalists and had invited “anti-national” label for them, and also their solidarity had been suspiciously perceived by some political groups in Kashmir. Therefore, in a way this book has provided Haksar a much-needed opportunity to salvage her image among those Indians who cast aspersions on her nationalistic credentials.

Throughout the book, Haskar emphasises that hers was essentially a political fight, because she wanted to “pave the way for another kind of politics” — open up more democratic space and won more friends for India among Kashmiris.

Sampat Prakash is the main protagonist in the book. He emerges as an audacious, passionate socialist who leads an influential labour organisation Low Paid Government Servants Federation, and through his tireless work he manages to get some important benefits for the working class people in both government and non-government sectors. Moreover, as an ardent believer of Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri nationalism, Sampat also briefly joined JKLF. Here he diligently accompanied Yasin Malik on his 2007 Safar-e-Azadi campaign and toured even “risky’ areas of Kashmir. Though, he considers this experience as a significant one, but a grudge remains: that his part in the campaign was not well acknowledged.

So, it is through Sampat’s recounting of his life-tale that Haksar tries to chart the history of the trade union movement in Jammu and Kashmir. This strategy pays off. Because Sampat has been a stupendously perceptive witness to many hitherto unknown events and intrigues in the political history of Kashmir, and he lays bare before the author perhaps the first historical account on trade unionism in Kashmir, providing interesting and insightful details about its major troughs and crests and its dramatis personae.


Another prominent figure in the book is Muhammad Afzal Guru, whom Haksar knew very well, and to whose family she extended unconditional hospitality at her Delhi home. Naturally, she is privy to many episodes and events around Afzal and Syed Abdur Rehman Geelani (Prof SAR Geelani) which have an intriguing and controversial character to them.

So, what really make these two characters, Afzal and Sampat, to stick together and allow author to weave a coherent narrative? For Haksar, Sampat represents a secular spirit within Kashmiri nationalism that is better represented by the syncretic culture of Kashmiriyat. Oddly enough, Haksar seems sceptical about this term, but Sampat believes in it and cites his experiences in the labour movement as its reflection. Afzal, on the other hand, is story of a Kashmiri nationalist, who started off as a secular JKLF activist, but overwhelming circumstances and a long jail term made him reflect deeper on life and its meanings and eventually took him into an Islamist position. For Haksar, these two ideological strands represented by these two Kashmiris define facets of Kashmiri nationalism in the post-1947 period.

While the author demonstrates that she empathetically understands Kashmiri people and their issues and criticises, and rightly so, the Indian state for its brutalities and suppression within Kashmir and its persistent policy of militaristic approach to the Kashmir conflict, there are certain problems in her narrative, however, which I want to highlight — I am interested in discursive strategies employed in the book.

Seemingly, Haksar is an advocate of Kashmiri Self-Determination, but in this book she seems to falter on this position at the very beginning when she writes “Afzal was born as a citizen of independent India.” This is a problematic assumption on which Vishal Bhardhwaj also tripped up in his movie Haider when the film rolls with the words: “Srinagar, India”. But, the more problematic aspects are certain tropes and apocryphal stories and statements that abound her narrative. As a self-professed liberal she seems predisposed to dislike other ideologies, especially Islamist, and that naturally brings certain biases into her narrative.

For example, she claims, without referencing any empirical study or survey, that 16 percent of Muslims in J&K are Salafist, and as an evidence we should see new mosques in Kashmir that are built on “Saudi architectural style” . This is a spurious claim because Saudi architectural style is a vague term and even if we accept it for argument’s sake, then Dargah Hazratbal shrine would count as a classic case in Kashmir, because it is modelled on “Medina mosque”.  For me, Saudi architectural style actually conjures up Basharat Peer’s 2012 New Yorker article “Modern Mecca” which describes the bulldozed heritage in that country!

I am reluctant to call it an Islamophobic streak but she does veer close to it on many occasions. For example, on page 240 she writes: “But the challenge before Sampat Prakash was not militant Islam, but the rise of militant Hinduism.” One is misled in believing that there will follow, perhaps for the sake of balance, a critical discussion on militant Hinduism. But that is not to be, and just some pages later, she comes back to write: “over unlimited kebabs and a few drinks at Barbeque Nation, he [Sampat] shared his concerns over the rise of Ahl-e-Hadith’s version of Islam [in Kashmir]”. Her focus again and again comes back to what she calls as “radical Islam”, but there is no actual discussion on “militant Hinduism” or Panun Kashmir’s fascist Hindutva.

That Kashmiris are cowardly and effeminate in nature is a peculiar trope to describe natives, a trope with a long pedigree that orientalist made quite use of till Edward Said ruined their party around 1978. But Haksar carries it all off with a blithe indifference and shows us how a “ferocious-looking militant” actually fainted at magician’s trick of slicing a women into two, and how this all seeming machismo and manliness of a bearded, Kalashnikov wielding young Kashmiri is nothing but pretension, because “Bismillah said before the insurgency Kashmiris used to faint at the sight of blood and would cry even if they saw an injured bird” (170).

Nandita Haksar with Afzal Guru Family

In uncritical terms, she describes Pandits as ingrained secular and scholarly people, while as Muslims as non-secular. This dichotomy is achieved through the character of Badruddin, who, we are told, was beaten up by a Muslim teacher because he couldn’t properly pronounce an Arabic word, but when Badruddin met a Kashmiri Pandit he “instilled in him a love of science”. Whereas kindhearted Pandit teacher emphasised on secular education, the Muslim teacher “introduced Badruddin to books by Maulana Maududi” (172). This dichotomous view perhaps explains why she is so sceptical about the notion of “Kashmiriyat” and seemingly negatively predisposed towards Kashmiri leaders.

Haksar also plays with the familiar boilerplate trope of proxy war, and for an effect she uses Kashmiri Muslim characters as channel for such articulation. Sample this: “The headmaster said the insurgency was revenge for the breaking up of Pakistan, and the creation of Bangladesh.” She also wrongly describes Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar as a “Pakistani militant”, ignoring the fact that he is a native of Downtown Srinagar where he is known as “Mushtaq Latram”. Moreover, while the book is supposedly about many facets of Kashmiri nationalism, yet the discussion on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad runs disproportionately on more pages than the discussion about the emergence of the Kashmiri nationalist formations, which only gets passing mention. So, what purpose does a longer and recurrent discussion on Pakistan-based militant groups serve other than reinforcing the statist idea that the Kashmir armed struggle is a “proxy war”.

One of the problematics in her narrative is the strategy of false equivalency and false balance which comes to the fore in statements like these: ‘…thousands of Kashmiri were killed by militants and Indian security forces…’ (223). Notice the placement of militants before the Indian forces as an attempt to distort the fact that the Indian forces and the Kashmiri militants are not at parity — militarily; and while the former is essentially for systematically controlling and brutalising Kashmiris on behalf of the post-colonial state, the latter emerges from and acts on behalf of the occupied Kashmiris and receives the popular support.

One of the most preposterous statements in the book was perhaps this: “He [Kuka Parray] had returned a disappointed man as he felt that Pakistan was not helping Kashmir but destroying its ethos” (167). By this logic Kuka Parray must have been a man of ethics, principles, and compassion. But Haksar does not tell us on whose behalf he, in turn, started destroying the Kashmiri ethos by creating a brigade of brutal renegades who tortured and killed people with impunity, raped women, razed down houses, smuggled timber and did all the terrible things?

The most telling example of the gaps in her narrative, though, is her take on the uprisings since 2008. She frames the 2008 mass civil agitation as a clash of “religious fundamentalism”, conveniently ignoring that the 2008 mass protests had assumed a nationalist character, turning into one of the largest anti-India uprisings in the 21st century Kashmir; that many elite Indian newspapers had in fact taken notice and carried opinion pieces advocating independence for Kashmir; that 2008 was in fact a watershed moment for the Kashmiri nationalist movement as it mobilised hundreds of thousands of people who demanded end to the Indian militarised occupation in Kashmir; that the 2008 mass agitation also deflated the Indian statist, and predominant Indian civil society, discourse of ‘Pakistan’s proxy war’ and brought international focus on the Self-Determination movement of Kashmiris. And yet, curiously, the 2009 Asiya and Neelofar rape and murder case and the 2010 mass civil uprising is completely omitted in the book.

Her biases also reflect in the way she peddles unsubstantiated claims and takes political rhetoric for reality: “Kashmir treated Jammu like its colony”, or “while much money had been spent to develop tourism in Kashmir, nothing had been done for Jammu” (245). These terms “Colony” and “Nothing” are casually and uncritically thrown in the sentences.

In the Afterword, Haksar briefly dips into the holy waters of the conflict resolution and here she disappoints by taking the route of chimera called Insaniyat a la Prime Ministers of India when they pop in Kashmir to deliver their political homilies to arranged audiences every now and then, and leaving us with the nagging question as always: what does she really mean when she says I support Kashmiris right to decide their own future?

Post-script: When self-professed liberal Indians begin to describe Kashmiris, the experience dictates that the latter should always take their words with a large pinch of salt.


First published in Kashmir Life on April 5, 2016:

Godman’s Goose

In 1992 three Pulwama villages invoked draw-of-lots to decide where their faith-healer Syed Gayas-ud-din Bukhari should stay. Babhaar, a dusky Pulwama hamlet won. Quickly, the god-man migrated out of his native Rupwen village in Budgam.

Bukhari’s murid (follower), sheep-herder Dost Muhammad Wagay gave-up sheep-husbandry and followed his Pir to Babhar. As a watchman of Pir’s new home, Dost stayed put there, ever since.

The new Babhar residence of the Pir remained crowded with his followers, who visited him regularly. For establishing a spiritual centre by Pir, Babhar’s four zamindars (landowners) — Syeda Begum (Mrs Abdul Ahad Malik), Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Farooq Ahmad Sheikh, and Ali Mohammad Sheikh — gifted land. Pir’s popularity had surged donations and offerings. Within a decade, Pir’s new residence flourished into a vibrant spiritual centre, attracting people from all social and economic classes.

“Even the rich and influential would pay a visit here,” says Dost Muhammad, now a frail elderly in his 60’s.

The seminary known as Darul Aloom Rohani Markaz, tucked inside dense apple orchards, is spread over 6.6 kanals. Inside the walled seminary, air of tranquility and silence pervades. Shrubs and evergreens encircle its manicured garden.

Amidst this serene quietude stand a couple of structures. Right at the entry, a two-level concrete and glass structure, painted in white and green, greets a visitor. It is the Rohani Markaz (spiritual centre).

“This is the place where Pir Sahib used to sit with his followers,” explains Dost Muhammad. “It is now locked, but if you peep through the glass windows you can see his framed pictures inside.”

On the right side is a well furnished white varnished mosque, decked with traditional pagoda-style tin roof. Abutting the mosque on the far side rests Bukhari in his tomb.

The place where Pir used to sit.

Pir’s loyal followers still visit his white-washed brick and mortar tomb — burning incense sticks around it, hanging garlands, tying votive threads on the window handle bars. They donate money in the brown steel safe that sits comfortably at the tomb’s entrance.

“His murids regularly visit the shrine and organize niyaz (a feast in somebody’s memory),” Dost Muhammad informed while advising to remove shoes before stepping on the tomb steps.

There are other structures around also. A two storey building used as a dormitory for the students of the Darul Aloom, a concrete one storey building where the Pir used to sit after migration, a big store house, and a stone plinth of an abandoned construction — now converted into a kitchen garden.

“Previously this place thrived on the footfalls,” says Dost, “politicians, police officers would come here. It was always a lively place.” But not anymore.

Currently, all is not well with this serene habitat. After Pir’s death in March 2009, the 6.6 kanal property has turned into a site of dispute, dividing relatives and the villagers. The centre for community’s spiritual growth has now become a devise issue.

The division is unique. On one side stands Pir’s 58-year-old son Syed Mukhtar Ahmad Bukhari, and Majeed, one of the land donors. Opposing them are Syed Bashir Ahmad Andrabi (Pir’s son-in-law) and the three remaining land donors. The dispute is already seven year old. They lodged FIRs and petitioned courts, and on one occasion, entered into physical brawl also.

Grave of Pir's mother

Pir’s son Mukhtar and his supporters hold that since the seminary’s property belonged to the Pir, his children are its natural and legal inheritors.

Opponents, however, contend that the land was gifted for building a religious institution — a Takeer (Trust) — and not as a personal property.

“When my illiterate father and aunt [Syeda Begum] donated their ancestral land they did it for the sole purpose of establishment of a Trust,” says Abdul Qayoom, son of a land-donor Ghulam Muhammad Mir. “After Pir’s death, his son, who had rarely visited the seminary, claimed ownership.”

Qayoom alleges that Mukhtar even sold seminary’s land at Sombur, in Pampore outskirts, which Pir had purchased from the donations raised at Babhar centre.

But Mukhtar refutes the allegation. “We (one son and four daughters of Bukhari) are the rightful owners of everything that our father owned, and only an owner can sell the property,” he explained.

What makes the case a curious family dispute over property is the presence of Syed Bashir Ahmad, Pir’s son-in-law, in the opposition camp. Working in Handicrafts department, he lives in Srinagar. Presently, the seminary is in occupation of the group that Bashir supports.

Qayoom says more than 100 students are currently enrolled in the seminary, functioning under the guidance of Maulana Shakeel ul Rehman. “It was the wasiyat (will)” says Qayoom, “of the Pir Sahib that Syed Bashir Ahmad should become his spiritual janasheen (successor)”.

Mukhtar neither accepts his brother-in-law as Bukhari’s ‘spiritual’ successor nor does he accept that the land, including the seminary, belongs to any institution.

“My brother-in-law in cahoots with the other party started this dispute,” Mukhtar said. “He claimed he is entitled to care-taking of the property. However, we filed a case in the civil court against him and the Pulwama court has issued a stay order, barring his entry into the premises.”

Qayoom argues that seminary cannot become a personal property because different government departments have also donated to it: toilets by Block Development Office, funds donated by MLAs and Deputy Commissioner, and RDA.

“Actually it is our land donated for a purpose,” explains Qayoom. “If they try to make it a personal property we will take it back.”

When the property transfer was under process in 2010, the opposing group had submitted their objections to the Additional DC Pulwama before 90 days. But, they alleged, a revenue officer was influenced to ensure the land ownership to Pir’s son.

Three years ahead of his death, Qayoom claims, Pir had written a wasiyat stating the property belongs to the Trust and there are witnesses to vouch for that. These documents, however, were kept by a judge.

Mukhtar alleged that his opponents joined by Maulvi Shakeel ur Rehman started Darul Aloom after evicting his family forcefully from the property in June 2010.

Ruhani Markaz

“We had to leave as we feared for our lives,” says Mukhtar. “We had no other option. The case is now pending with DC Pulwama.”

On June 26, 2010 at 5 pm, according to Mukhtar, some 5 to 7 people barged into the seminary premises wielding sticks. They attacked his family and few other people. Mukhtar was with a neighbour at the time, but his son was at the seminary. In the melee one Mohammad Abbas Sheikh was critically injured and hospitalised.

But the opposing group has a different narration about the June 26 incident. They allege that men supporting Mukhtar attacked their women Syeda Begum and Saja Begum, then in their 60’s.

Both the groups registered cases against each other with police. “We lodged an FIR against physical assault. They lodged a counter FIR alleging molestation of old women,” says Abdul Majeed, another resident whose family had also donated 2 kanals of land to the Pir in 1998. But unlike other three families he supports Mukhtar’s right to inheritance, insisting the land transfer to the Pir was through a gift deed.

“The Quran and Sharia makes the inheritance clear,” says Majeed, “Property transfers to legal heirs. The land was given to Pir in 1992 and till 2009 there was no Darul Aloom around. He died in 2009 and after three months the property was transferred to his children.”

Majeed alleges that opponents have “forcefully” brought poor kids from remote corners of Kashmir to the seminary to keep it running. “At the moment, i guess, there must be barely 15 students enrolled. They just want to make money through it. They want the donated land back and talk of Trust is just a smokescreen,” he says.

But why didn’t police help them if the court, as he claimed, had ruled in their favour?

“I approached the police several times. Even I visited the then SSP. But they are dragging the case. Police informed the court that they failed to locate the disputed land site!”

Police, this writer talked to, said they are not authorised to talk. Off the record, however, they said the jurisdiction of the case lies with the revenue authorities. “Legally speaking, we can just provide protection but cannot evict any party,” says a police man at Police Station Pulwama.

Qayoom alleges that Majeed is siding with Mukhtar because one of his relatives, the erstwhile general secretary of the Trust, has misappropriated cash and gold that came as donation.

“He was the bank account holder on behalf of the Trust and I have evidences against him,” alleges Qayoom. “He used Rs 75 lakh of seminary money for the construction of his own house.’’

Majeed refutes these allegations.

Mukhtar, a deputy secretary in Legislative Assembly, says the land donators lack even a shred of evidence to prove that they gave land for the Trust.

“It is a 20 years old thing,” says Mukhtar, “why was the Trust not legally registered in these years? When he (Pir) was alive why didn’t they ask him to register the Trust? If the lands transfer documents were executed in 1995 why didn’t they follow it up till 2009?”

Dost Muhammad

Admitting to the existence of a “religious centre” on the site, Mukhtar said: “it is our pesha [profession] and our livelihood depends on it. Our forefathers too were part of it. We are in this business for the last 100 years or so.”

Hinting at the traditional association of certain castes with the pesha, Mukhtar says his brother-in-law is no Andrabi, but a Shah. “His claims on enrolment make no sense as the property ultimately belongs to me. They are just illegal trespassers occupying the premises against court orders,” asserts Mukhtar.

Talking strictly within the legal framework of inheritance, Mukhtar admitted selling a land plot at Druss. “Suppose I have intention to build a mosque but I die suddenly and I have legal heirs, isn’t it their choice whether they build it or not?” he asked. “His (Pir’s) intentions were indeed noble, but he couldn’t complete it, so what can one do! It is now the discretion of his legal heirs whether they want to continue their father’s mission or use it for their own purpose. Others have no business meddling in this.” He said same argument holds true for another land sale at Sombur.

Asked about his father’s intention in purchasing the Sombur land, Mukhtar explained thus: “If Mirwaiz Kashmir purchases a land that does not mean that he will necessarily build a mosque everywhere.”

“One has his family to look after also. Rohaniyat (spirituality) is fine but one has to live also.”

At ground zero, the new generation is cracking jokes. “The Pir duped the naïve peasants,” one young man, claiming to be equidistant from the warring factions, said. He, however, believed the seminary, if permitted to grow, would contribute positively to the community.

“If the Pir has transferred the seminary property to his heirs, it is a clear case of fraud,” said Tariq Ahmad, a PhD scholar and a Babhar native. “Such cases have made people increasingly wary about pir-muridi system.”

Seminary hostel.

Interestingly, the faith in Pir was unquestioned among warring factions. Village majority believes that Wasiyat must prevail.

Interestingly, the watchman Dost Muhammad’s existence is lost to the parties. He has diligently taken care of the seminary for the last 20 years, at times even sleeping empty stomach. He does not get any salary, but his solemn faith in his Pir keeps him going. Elderly Dost somehow managing a meagre sustenance, tending the kitchen garden and doing the domestic chores.

“Pir Sahib told me,” Dost said with a clear conviction in his soft voice, “If I work here, I will get great rewards in the life hereafter.”


First published in Kashmir Life on 21 June 2016:

What does Aleppo mean now!

When Aleppo fell the last week (or was liberated, from the viewpoint of Assad regime and his supporters), emotions ran high and verbal duels ensued.

Arguments and counter-arguments were presented, examples were cited, evidences were thrown at, and all this by those who weren’t Syrian, or for that matter Arab, but Kashmiris – non-stakeholders, in the conflict studies terms. What was my position on the issue? I sought out a genuine answer. But even when I had a position – whether informed or uninformed – I was a little hesitant to share it publicly. While I would like to believe it had nothing to do with my fear of upsetting certain friends and acquaintances, but I am afraid that would not be completely true. But even then that was not the entire story either.

Though I have had a bad experience of displeasing and eventually losing few friends because of my explicit and vocal position on Kashmir, on Aleppo, or on Syria for that matter, my silence was more to do with my reluctant, though partially successful, attempt to cultivate a sense of disinterestedness in other “problems”. I remember a casual conversation with my teacher at IUST back in 2009 in which he said and I paraphrase that we Kashmiris have a curious tendency to get too emotionally involved in other conflicts – he cited Palestine as an example – and in the process invite too much burden on our minds which should be in clear and consistent focus on our own problem, a huge and historical problem.

I know this may sound strange and may even seem a morally and ethically undesirable, and outrageous, position to seek, but this attempt of disinterestedness is a process I am reluctantly experimenting with, as a way of both retaining sanity in the prevailing quagmire and becoming unencumbered of a burden which I think is not needed when my own – and my people’s – position is already too heavily saddled with an onerous responsibility; there is big and long fight to fight in one’s own backyard.

Whether I support or not any side of the Syrian conflict is immaterial; it won’t make any tangible difference at all; not in the least through social media. Inevitably, Assad and his allies will fight and his opponents will not give up either; Syria, unfortunately, has defied all theories of stalemate, and whatever could have provided a way out.

Moreover, any position taken vis-a-vis any conflict is essentially governed by self-interest; that is a hard fact, if not the human nature. Therefore, positions of involved nation-states and parties in relation to the Syrian conflict are largely determined by this reasoning. Now, what can possibly influence the nation-states to not pursue their self-interests? I haven’t got an answer yet to this troubling question.

All I have to offer is a nebulous expression on the prevailing situation: Aleppo is two things: an event and a metaphor; Aleppo is a metaphor for our times: of everything which is wrong about our times; Aleppo as an event is a cruel chapter in the checkered history of humanity – and perhaps, an empirical reiteration for those who tend to believe that larger violence begets larger victory!

As the event has reached its tragic climax in the second week of December, it has already laid bare the whole gamut of contrived narratives and consequently whipped up and locked in tension emotions far and wide: on the one hand have sectarian biases masquerading as political pragmatism and on the other hand are ideological partialities; and yet, in between all this, outraged voices spar with the curious cases of political correctness. Like the incredible bramble-like war-scape of Syria itself, reactions to it eventually cast light on our own human frailties; as Hobbes wrote: “For such is the nature of man, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” (Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes; 1651)


First published in the Greater Kashmir on 23 December 2016:


Ye dil dil-e-veeran hai to kya

Sholoon ka hangaam bi hai

Umeed-e-roz-e-adl rakhta hai musalsal

Waad-e-sehar ka paigaam bi hai

Be-lagaam parvezi, be-khayaal sarkashi

Harm-e-jazbaat me haseen jam bi hai

Kabhi tareekiyoon me muqafil khayaloon ka bikharna

Payambar to hai, thoda naqaam bi hai

Jo bikharta hai to barq-e-larzaan ki tarah

Ye dil daar-e-jazba-e-benaam bi hai

Lamhoon ke guzar jaane ke baad, Firaz

Sehar-e-halchal ko talaash-e-shaam bi hai

Lau-e-ishq hai dil jalta hai khursheed ki tarah

Deed-e-har suu hai par na-tamaam bi hai


19 Nov 2016; 10:50 pm



For the ease of understanding, i am attaching word meanings below:

Dil-e-veeran: desolate heart
 Sholoon ka hangaam: place/season of flames
 Roz-e-adl: day of justice
 Musalsal: continuous
 Waad-e-sehar: promise of dawn
 Be-lagaam parvezii: unfettered flight
 Bekhayaal sarkashi: unmindful rebellion
 Haram-e-jazbaat: sacred sanctuary of emotions
 Haseen jaam: elegant wine glass (goblet)
 Tereekiyon me muqqfil: locked in the chains of darkness
 Payambar: messenger
 Barq-e-larzaan: shimmering lights
 Daar: abode
 Jazba-e-benaam: nameless emotion
 Sehar-e-halchal: dawn of stir/tumult
 Lau-e-ishq: flame of love
 Khursheed: the sun
 Deed-e-har suu: all seeing eye
 Na-tamaam: incomplete


Pur-asraar Mohabatein


Aye, Jhelum, aye shahid-e-daryeena

Aye mourikh-e-behshit-e-gum-naseeb


Teri nazar se guzri hai har door ki fizayein

To bata ki dor-e-haazir ki kaifiyaat kya hai


Tere kinare tumne dekhi hongay

Jawano ki wo ajeeb si toliyaan

Jo mehez sang-e-himayat ke aslah lekar

Ajnabi mujahidoon ke liye,

Aamad aate hai, purasrar safiino.n ki tarah

Un mujahidoon ke liye

Jo karvaan-e-justaju ke mehmaan bi hai,

Jo andheeron me basar karte hai apna safar-e-mukhtasar

Jinke nishan-e-hayat ahd o piamaan bi hai


Kya tumne bi sune hai un jawanoo

Ke larazte hasratoon ke bol

Harf-e-ah-o-gum ki mehfilein


Kya tumne bi dekhi hai

Un jawano ke sulagte dard ki chingariyan

Unki jurrat-e-aarizoo ki wusatein


Kya tumne bi kabhi mehsoos ki hai

Wafa se labreez unki mohabatein,

Wo mohabtein jo purasraar hai saari mohabatoon me.



10 December 2016

















Witnessing the Summer Uprising in Kashmir


This summer I visited Kashmir to collect important data for my research thesis, and also to see my family. While it took a while clearing needless bureaucratic hassles to get access to hardbound newspaper archives, I was optimistic in getting my work done gradually. But soon my optimistic self was to be overwhelmed by the most significant political event in the recent Kashmiri history: on 8th July a local rebel leader Burhan Wani was killed and immediately spontaneous street protests erupted in entire Kashmir valley.

Burhan Wani, who had joined an indigenous rebel group as a teenager, was quite popular – in large part due to his good-looks and social media persona built over the years. He attracted lot of Kashmiris, particularly youth, and also drew some of them to militant ranks; and that is why when he was killed, at the young age of 22, in a “military encounter” in south Kashmir, his funeral procession was largely thronged by young men and women. By some estimates his funeral procession, which was held in his hometown Tral, around 50 km from the capital city Srinagar, was attended by over 200,000 mourners – one of the largest for any Kashmiri ever. As a mark of solidarity, and political convention among pro-independence Kashmiri dissidents, all business establishments, government offices, transport, educational institutions were closed in the wake of his death, which brought most economic and other day to day activities to a virtual halt, including my data collection work.


But explosive situations aren’t new to Kashmir, for Kashmiris have been living under constant pressures of the raging conflict and concomitant militarization and political upheavals since early 1990’s; and also 2008 and 2010 mass protests occurred not so long ago. However, what was certainly different this time around was the emotional intensity and spread of these Intifada like protests. While in 2008 and 2010, people of urban centres were more active protest participants, this time the protest wave had swept not only the entire Kashmir valley – traditionally the centre of perpetual political agitations – but also reached relatively peaceful Chenab area in the Jammu region. And yet, what was also different during this time was the sheer scale and appalling brutality of state violence. As many commentators in media have already described, the current state violence against protestors in Kashmir has been unprecedented. In its report, a fact-finding team of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which spent a week in Kashmir (October 14-22), made following observations: “The government responded by heavy and forceful military clampdown which resulted in a continuing spate of killings, injuries and arrests of people which continues unabated almost every day till the present.”

And, giving details about the human cost of such “heavy and forceful military clampdown” against Kashmiri civilians, the PUCL reported that from 9th July to 15th October, “the total number of civilians killed by the police and the security forces was 101…[and] It was reported that 12 people died due to pellets fired by the forces. It was also learnt that 1 policeman too was killed in mob violence.”

The report further revealed that, “a total of 15,000 persons were injured in this period with 12, 344 being admitted in various hospitals. About a thousand persons were injured in the eye due to pellets resulting in 300 cases of blinding, which included a large proportion of school going children.”


Witnessing the Horrors of Brutal State Action

The morning of 9th July was eerily silent in Pampore, my hometown, because curfew was promptly imposed there. However, mass protests had engulfed most towns and villages. I rushed to the local hospital to see an acquaintance of mine who had been injured in police action when he tried to reach Tral to join funeral, and it was there in the Emergency ward that I saw pellet-ridden bodies for the first time. By noon, ambulance after ambulance arrived with over dozen grievously injured protestors. One of them died after a party of feared Special Task Force (STF) violently barged into the hospital and roughed up his attendants inside the ambulance. Everyone was left in utter shock. Soon, reports began to come that ambulances were being deliberately targeted by paramilitary men and at some places government forces had barged into hospital premises and thrashed medical staff and injured patients. As protests continued unabated, many houses were ransacked, private vehicles smashed and agricultural produce destroyed. It looked like a planned state tactic to crush the uprising.

 “Scars of Pellet Gun”

While listening to conversations I realized “pellet” was the most frequently used term on streets and homes and, also, in media.  There was a reason. Pellet gun was never used at a scale as it was during the summer 2016; and the damage to human bodies it caused was unprecedented as PUCL reported. As such, its use against Kashmiri protestors has been opposed by many rights groups, including Amnesty, which described this so-called non-lethal weapon as “inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate” and hence not appropriate for policing protests. Even some Indian legislators on the floor of the Indian parliament voiced their opposition against pellet guns. “Shoot the people but do not use pellet guns. Pellet Guns are worse than live bullets. It is worse than killing people,” a senior India politician said in the Parliament on Aug 10. But despite much opposition the government did not stop using them, and still insist on its necessity. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Indian paramilitary force, which remains deployed in huge numbers on Kashmiri streets – along with army and police – to crush the ongoing protests, has justified use of pellet guns, as according to the CRPF affidavit, only other alternative for it is “to open fire with rifles, which may cause more fatalities.” In response to a public litigation, CRPF revealed that it has fired 1.2 million pellets in the first 32 days of street protests. Each cartridge of pump-action shot gun contains lead pellet, which disperse into hundreds of tiny pieces, and when aimed from close range these pellets can penetrate soft tissues of the targeted body. The extent of damage caused by pellets shots, especially to eyes, has been widely documented in press reports. One of the detailed and descriptive reportages on this terrible phenomenon was Ellen Barry’s story in The New York Times “An Epidemic of Dead Eyes in Kashmir as India Uses Pellet Guns on Protestors” (28 August).

dsc_0079And The Deadlock Continues…

Indian media frames the current uprising in Kashmir as a law and order issue or Pakistan orchestrated problem and indiscriminately uses the term “mob violence” to describe the street protests and deliberately focuses on stone-pelting incidents. As a result, Indian media is despised in Kashmir. Its framing not only obscures the fact that the government forces used excessive force to thwart even peaceful congregations, but provides a cover for punitive state actions. In what The Indian Express (Oct 21) describes as “the biggest crackdown in two decades” the state authorities in Kashmir have arrested at least 7000 people, with around 500 of them under Public Safety Act (PSA), which Amnesty International calls as a “lawless law” (because a person arrested under PSA remains in custody without trail for at least 6 months). Among the arrested are 85 minors, some of them on sedition charges.

The Indian government blamed Pakistan for the protests, refusing to engage it on Kashmir, while as Pakistan publicly assured strong diplomatic and political support to what its calls as the “Kashmiri freedom struggle.” In the hope to bring much needed international attention to their cause and make some headway politically, Kashmiris continue to adhere to protest calendars issued week after week by Hurriyat, an amalgam of pro-independence parties. The deadlock seems to not go away.

But as evident in the mass participation of people in the current anti-India uprising, the political aspiration of Kashmiris for Azadi (independence) does not seem to wane despite long spells of military crackdown that was unleashed to crush the Kashmiri armed movement in the early 1990’s and then again to suppress the 2008 and 2010 pro-independence protests. And still, rather than responding politically – a measure also advocated by many senior Indian parliamentarians, diplomats, and journalists – to the political demands of Kashmiris the government of India has chosen a hard approach with the sole objective to bring the writ of the state back on the streets of Kashmir. Although, a delegation of Indian Parliamentarians went to Kashmir, but it didn’t help in breaking the ice as Kashmiri pro-independence leaders refused to meet the delegates, arguing that, first, the delegation did not have the mandate, and second, the Indian state has discredited the institution of dialogue because, in the past, similar delegations visited Kashmir during the times of political crisis but nothing concrete followed after that. And the deadlock continues…








First published on Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction (IICRR) website:

Review: Long Ago I Died (2011)



Director: Shah Ifat Gazia

Script: Maryam Shamas

Poetry: H.Kirmani


I am not wounded, yet in pain…I am the witness

When the case of Sameer Rah’s brutal murder seemed to being systematically obfuscated Ifat Gazia, a young bio-chemistry student from Kashmir, decided to follow her personal calling and, borrowing a small DV camera from her teacher, to search out the truth; she put together a team by searching Facebook for “the right kind of people”, who shared her conviction to speak Truth to the power; their daring endeavour took the shape of a moving 20 minute long documentary Long Ago I died.

in our home, no questions have ever been answered

Long Ago I died is the film that seeks answers; it is an attempt at tearing up the thick screen of mystery which has been deftly weaved around the death of 9 year old Sameer Rah by the state. It tells the tale of “the youngest victim of the [2010] uprising” by taking us to the site where it all happened, bringing out on camera for the first time those who witnessed the ruthless murder of a 9 year old Kashmiri kid.

The film opens with the iconic scenes of 2008 and 2010 Kashmir uprisings — with masses of people converging on thoroughfares and every big and small street, waving flags and chanting pro-independence slogans — thus contextualising the incident and the situation in which it had taken place.

In one of the scenes, Sameer’s friend in brownish stripped pheran leads us to Sameer’s house through a winding narrow street. He holds a Kanger inside. When Ifat asks him whether he used to play with Sameer, he replies in brief, “Cricket. Ifat and the young lad walks briskly between the brick and mortar walls of the empty street in inner Batamaloo area of Srinagar; sound of their marching feet echoes around and one wonders how intensely horrifying it would have been when young Sameer, in a yellow T-shirt, had walked the same path on that fateful curfew day 2nd August 2010.

What Sameer’s murder brought to his family is poignantly captured; his inconsolable father tries to feel his presence in his books. It is hard for him to recount how his beloved son was brutally murdered. It is even harder to conjure up the horrible image of his frail young body being trampled under the large jackboots, and his kidneys crushed.

Somewhere our history is at war with our Truth. 

Around the middle, the film may seem to drift away, as the director has padded the narrative with brief appearances of some young Kashmiris. But that in no way hinders the progress of the film, but rather compliments the theme.

This film does not only reveal the strong belief among the people that justice has not been done in the case of Sameer Rah’s murder, but it also subtly exhibit, at the larger plane, the archetypical mindset of the Kashmiri youth; showing us in the nature and the tone of the film how daily exposure to violence and deaths and perennial clouds of uncertainly that loom large over Kashmiri life, has shaped their outlook of life and how they respond to their extraordinary situation.

If studied comprehensively, the film has elements of post-modern ingenuity; it does not follow conventional linear pattern of narrative. What it does, instead, is that it touches upon the different aspects of the experience of Kashmiri youth and links these disparate strands through powerful poetic narration that gives it a smooth flow. There are minor flaws here and there, but all those technicalities and nuances can be overlooked for the humanistic content and the powerful eloquence of the film. The expressive verses of H. Kirmani just flow through the film and heighten the impact of the visuals presented: “Our journey is yet unaccomplished. But we know one thing. The travelers have changed. They have changed. The hermit is now the warrior. We are still walking. Let the caravan grow.”

Maryam Shamas’s script is rather well-crafted. Juxtaposition of eloquent words with equally suggestive visuals has lent the film required ambiance of poignancy and pathos.

Disappeared into the darkness that has engulfed the thousands

Ifat Gazia and her team deserve all praise for their brave effort to highlight the murder of Sameer Rah that was largely ignored by the Indian media. By visually documenting the case and the accounts of the witnesses of the murder they have tried to counter the denial of the murder by the state and, more importantly, not let it slip away from the memory of the people.

The last visual of the film comes with a message that can hardly be ignored: A fallen chinar leaf is resting on rusty parched land and on the foreground is a quotation speaking out the restrained anger of young Kashmiri hearts:

Where a bullet is unasked, death becomes a dignity…And…where oppression is called peace, violence becomes a virtue…  


Written in September 2011.